I mentioned yesterday that I’d written “a brilliant remedy” for Her‘s soft-third-act problem, and that while I couldn’t post it in the column I’ve emailed it to a few columnist-critic friends. One of them got back to me last night, and explained what he felt is the proper role of a columnist-critic. He basically feels that the best way to go is to be passive and reactive — to write only about what is put in front of you (i.e., what is commercially released) and nothing more. The ideal critic, in other words, behaves pretty much like a lamb grazing on a hillside pasture, going “baahhh!” and eating whatever grass is growing.
“I might be in the minority here, but I 100% don’t care what your alternate ending to the film is,” he wrote. “If you don’t like the film’s ending as is, write about that. Explain yourself. Discuss what you wanted from it that you didn’t get. But manically deciding you’re going to send Spike Jonze the ending he ‘should’ shoot in any kind of even half-assed effort to get him to change his film? Not in your job description, pally. Not even a little bit. Even as a joke, this is exactly what no filmmaker ever wants or needs to get from a critic.
“Analysis. Context. Reaction. Those are the ways we have to get into the bones of a movie. Suggesting alternate endings to filmmakers are aren’t asking for your input was the purview of Joe Farrell and NRG, and I’m still doing a happy dance from the day that douchebag blew away on the wind.”
No argument about the Farrell observation, but I replied that I’ve always felt that my job description is a roving executive in charge of creative affairs whose base of operations just happens to be a daily column. I’m not a sheep and I never have been. I don’t see why I have to limit myself to “analysis, context [and] reaction” to finished works. Why can’t I have an occasional opinion about not-quite-finished works (or at least about films that seem to be not quite there)? Directors, producers, screenwriters and actors are breathing the same cultural pollen as everyone else (myself included) and in some instances I’m just as sensitive and attuned to the latest shift in the wind as the “creatives” so why do I have restrict myself to responding to what they’ve come up with, movie- or TV-series-wise, after processing and transforming the pollen? Why do I have to accept that filter, that heirarchy, that chain of command? Why can’t I say, “Look, I love your film but it needs a tweak at the very end and here’s how you could do it”?
Not that I believe for a second that any reputable filmmaker would listen to a journalist about how to fix an ending (assuming that he believed he a problem exists in the first place), but I don’t see what’s so bad about having a back-and-forth dialogue about this stuff.